All posts by wildlifejournalist

“Teeth” in the Gulf

“Teeth”!

“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.

At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.

Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.

Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.

There is however something quite interesting.

15240140_10153905413465780_2058860035_nWhile “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.

Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.

This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.

As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.

It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.

Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.

Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.

Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.

The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?

These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.

So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.

You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.

There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.

And to be perfectly honest it still does.

Chester Moore, Jr.

All hail the King (Cobra)!

“Snakes can’t count.”

I uttered that under my breath as an 11 foot long king cobra scanned the room.

Owned by Andy Maddox of Pets-A-Plenty: The Ultimate Reptile Shop, the impressive serpent paid attention to everything happening in the room.

We were shooting a clip for my Kingdom Zoo television broadcast on GETV Kids and although I said they can’t count I was beginning to believe this cobra could.

Every time someone in the room moved, it marked them.

I have handled snakes thousands of times. At the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center we have 25 species and never have I had a snake pay so much attention to its surroundings.

Not even close.

Then it happened.

Me and the cobra (safely held on snake hooks by Eric Haug and Maddox) looked me in the eye. Square in the eye in fact and I could see there was something going on there.

This was an intelligent being, certainly by reptile standards and it had an awareness unlike any other snake I had encountered.

My first look at a king cobra came at the Houston Zoo when I was six years old. In what I have come to know is a super rare experience, a 14 footer there hooded up at me and my mom as I pressed close to the glass.

Mom literally ran out of the room and drug me away kicking and screaming. I wanted to stay and watch!

Since that visit I have acquired some interesting information on king cobras and other varieties of the iconic snake we will be writing about here at The Wildlife Journalist.

It has been quite a learning experience for me and an exciting one as it hearkens back to my childhood of playing with rubber cobras in the backyard and seeing these magnificent animals at the Houston Zoo and Sea Arama in Galveston, TX.

Stay tuned and check out the video outtake from the encounter described above.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Follow the nose…

There was something about those 1980s Fruit Loops commercials.

The debonair sounding “Toucan Sam” was and is a memorable icon of pop culture and was what initially got me interested in toucans.

After seeing them on my cereal box in the mornings I started looking them up in the personal wildlife book library I had accumulated and found them fascinating.

Fast forward to 1999 and I found myself in the rainforest of Venezuela and five feet away from this white-throated toucan on the shores of the massive Lake Guri.

I was mesmerized as I snapped this photo.

The unique design and beautiful contrast of light and dark was in my opinion the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.

Sure, cardinals and red-headed woodpeckers had more standard beauty but there was something special about the toucan-all toucans.

When we founded Kingdom Zoo in 2012 me and my wife Lisa knew we wanted at toucan.

We searched high and low to no avail so we did what we should have done to begin with. We prayed.

We also gave away plush toucans to needy children in the community as a way of showing Christ’s love but also believing that he who gives us given unto.

We recently had the opportunity to purchase a gorgeous male green aracari toucan. We named him “Papaya”.

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This friendly and very active bird had his official debut last weekend at the Kingdom Zoo: Wildlife Center and seeing people’s reactions was special.

Most have never seen a toucan up close, only on the cereal box or perhaps in a distance enclosure at a zoo. Our micro zoo provides close interactions with animals and “Papaya” has become our number one bird ambassador.

He is a true treasure and I could not be happier.

Dreams do come true. Sometimes they come after profound revelation. Sometimes they are passed down from family members.

And sometimes they can even be founded gazing at a cereal box excited about the sugary snack inside.

And don’t give me any flack about GMOs and refined sugars. You know you were eating them too.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Aoudad are here to stay

The aoudad (barbary sheep) is now a part of the Southwestern landscape that will never leave it-at least not until something cataclysmic like a worldwide flood or giant astroid strikes the planet.

I’m serious.

Imported from north Africa for hunting more than 60 years ago in Texas there are now large feral populations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

The aoudad is rufous tawny in color according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

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Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

“The insides of the legs are whitish. There is no beard, but there is a ventral mane of long, soft hairs on the throat, chest, and upper part of the forelegs. The horns of the male sweep outward, backward, and then inward; they are rather heavy and wrinkled, and measure up to 34 inches in length. Females also have prominent horns although they are not as large as those of the male.”

According to Wikipedia aoudad are fond of mountainous areas where they both graze and a browse.

They are able to obtain get all their moisture from food, but if liquid water is available, they drink it and wallow in it. They are crepuscular which means they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and resting in the heat of the day. They are very agile and can achieve a standing jump of over seven feet and will flee at the first sign of danger.

“They are well adapted to their habitats which consist of steep rocky mountains and canyons. When threatened, they always run up and bounce back and forth over the tops of the mountains to elude predators below. They stay in rough, steep country because they are more suited to the terrain than any of their predators. Aoudad are extremely nomadic and travel constantly via mountain ranges.”

One rancher had a 640 acre tract in Real County that was high fenced and had aoudad on it when he bough it. If you were to take all of the surface acres with canyons, hills and caves it is probably more like three times that size, at least it feels that way when I have been there.

Aoudad have rarely been killed there although herds as large as 30 have been seen.

The author snapped this rare photo of a baby aoudad on a tract of land in Texas in 2012.
The author snapped this rare photo of a baby aoudad on a tract of land in Texas in 2012.

He came across an aoudad ewe at a game sale and had the idea to fit her with a bell around her neck. When she got with the herd, he could hear the area they were in on the ranch. It is often extremely quiet out there.

The herd completely rejected her.

Another ranch had an aoudad in an acre pen that had grass grown up several feet high. They went to find the animal to try and lead it into a chute to put in a cage for the sale. It took them an hour to find the aoudad in an acre pen. They animal kept quietly crawling around on its knees.

These animals are survivors but are extremely elusive. Even in areas where they are common aoudad are far more shy than any of the native North American sheep.

Wildlife managers believe they outcompete native sheep for food and water but there are opposing viewpoints out there. We will discuss some of those in coming posts but either way the aoudad is here to stay.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Blue Deer

For years I have heard about strange whitetail deer that have a blue tint to their coats.

My father even reported seeing some of these deer on a hunting lease near San Saba, TX in the mid 1970s.

This of course was well before the era of cell phone cameras and game cameras so no photos were taken.

A reader sent in this photo of mysterious blue whitetails taken on his  game camera in an undisclosed location in the Pinewoods of East Texas.

Some parts look blue, others purple but this is not a an Adobe Photoshop rendering.

Have you seen any deer with unusual colors? If so e-mail wolf@wolfandlambmedia.com

We would love to see them.

Conservation for Elites

(In My Opinion)—Picture a home overlooking a gorgeous vineyard in the Napa Valley.

Inside the home is a taxidermy collection large enough to fill a small museum and a group of people talking about their latest hunt for sable in the Sereghetti or getting that elusive sheep permit in Tajikistan.

“I hope I get drawn this year,” says one of the attendants as they sip on the vintage of the day.

The guise of the meeting is to discuss wildlife conservation in Africa, how to spend money generated from sport hunting but in reality it’s a chance for the rich and privileged to feel good about the fact they know a bunch of other rich and privileged people who can afford to hunt around  the world.

Like hunting or not it does contribute hundreds of millions to conservation but often at the highest levels the real issues are missed because many of the elites simply don’t care.

Wild Dog (Cape Hunting Dog), Lycaon pictus, young pups ar den, endangered species, Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Wild Dog (Cape Hunting Dog), Lycaon pictus, young pups ar den, endangered species, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Mention banning ivory importants or reducing lion harvest and they will circle the wagons with lawyers, lobbyists and every other means available.

Mention working to save a true endangered species like the African wild dog and nothing happens. There is no way to put them in a trophy room (legally) so you get…crickets.

Now imagine walking into a trendy coffee shop in Austin with an indie-rock singer set up with an acoustic guitar singing mournful tunes about how they can’t afford the latest iPhone and other horrors of modern society.

Gathered in a private room to the side is a group of “environmentalists” sipping on a mix of oddly flavored coffees and really expensive tea.

The conversation gets heated about the exploits of the local Republican city councilman who puts out too many carbon emissions in his Diesel and there is a collective sigh when notes from the G20 Summit made no mention of shrinking polar icecaps.

Mention “climate change”-which is something that no one has ever explained how anyone can really do anything about and you have the full power of virtually every “green group”, the American and European media and college students looking for a reason to event.

A collection is taken and the rich and privileged socialites of the community (who would normally not be caught dead in a place like this) sign checks that would astound the average person.

But mention how tea plantations are causing the Asian elephant to spiral toward extinction by depleting habitat and increasing elephant kills and you get…crickets. (That tea they are drinking is good after all!)

At the highest levels of conservation world on divergent sides of the aisle, a handful of elites with great power and doing what elites tend to do.

They are stockpiling the limelight and opportunity for themselves and forsaking the most pressing  issues. They’re too busy hobnobbing and naming awards after one another (after huge donations to the cause of the day) to get real conservation work done.

Whether it is the hook and bullet sector or the “green side” of things there is good work being done by well-intentioned people making a difference. And some of them are very rich.

But if you wonder why it seems like the really endangered species get little help and why some of the most critically threatened habitat barely earns a blog mention, much less tv specials look no further  than the elites.

They are busy conserving their little piece of the world for themselves and their crowd to bask in the spotlight instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting down and dirty making real change.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Alligator eating donuts (Video)

Outdoor photographer Gerald Burleigh is known widely in his home state of Texas for his whitetail deer photography as well as his images of the life cycles of waterfowl.

While setting a game camera to lure in feral hogs on a stretch of property near the Neches River in Southeast Texas, he came across something interesting.

An alligator found his bait pile and came in and ate corn and gorged itself on some old donuts.

Alligators are carnivores that will eat virtually anything that swims in front of them but mainly eat fish and turtles.

This one apparently has a sweet tooth.

Something else interesting about this video is the camera is not set directly by the water. This alligator had to walk a pretty good way to find the food.

Alligators will actually cover long distances during the mating period and some of the very largest alligators are found in ponds far from the main waterways where they have set up after arriving there to find no mates during breeding season.

These areas house some of the very largest alligators because they are detached from their main habitat. The biggest alligators are targeted during the alligator hunting season so many of the largest specimens are those that have forsaken coastal marshes, main river channels and other spots close to civilization.

Alligators can grow to impressive sizes but it takes the correct genetics, available food and cover and the ability to live their maximum life cycle which can be upwards of 80 years.

Hunting pressure targeting the very largest alligators takes away the largest adults so truly large alligators (over 11 feet) are become increasingly rare.

Alligator populations themselves are high but those of maximum size are not as common as they used to be.

This one looks as if it might not make it too much longer. Any alligator that is willing to gobble up donuts would no doubt had a hard time resisting a chunk of rancid chicken dangling over the water.

Chester Moore, Jr.

America’s Outback

Australia’s Outback is one of the wildest and biologically diverse chunks of habitat left on the planet.

It is also a place that has tracts of ground that have felt no human footprints at least in the modern era.

American has its own outback.

It is the Trans-Pecos region of Texas-the far western region of the state.

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The Trans-Peco is part of the Chihuauan Desert and features several small mountain ranges and has a county (Brewster) that is larger than the entire state of Connecticut.

It is home to some of the rarest and most elusive reptiles in North America and is home to the largest black bear population in Texas. Scattered bears also roam the eastern third of the state.

This region in my opinion is the most likely place to discover new wildlife in the United States and is also very like to be home to a small population of jaguars.

Jaguars have been proven to be crossing into New Mexico and Arizona frequently due to a concerted game camera study in both states. No such study exists in Texas.

Unlike Arizona and New Mexico most of Trans-Pecos Texas is privately owned. That means any large-scale study would have to be given the green light by landowners there. That could happen and two years ago I spoke with a research group that focuses on the great cats and they expressed interest in the topic but so far nothing is happening.

The truth is unless landowners themselves make reports almost no news gets out of the region.

An interesting report I am investigating is of a Mexican gray wolf sighted in a remote area Alpine.

The person who gave me the report was a fur trapper with more than 50 years experience in killing coyotes for cattle and sheep operations. In other words, he knows the difference between coyote and wolves.

When I interviewed him the animal he described sounded strikingly like a Mexican gray wolf and was in an area far away from any major human population.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the wild population of Mexican gray wolves in 2015 was 48 animals. It is not much a leap of faith to see one or more of these animals wandering into Texas.

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In October 2000, a radio collared gray wolf from was shot and killed near Kirksville, MO nearly 600 miles away. A Mexican gray would not have to travel that far to end up near Alpine.

We will be forcing some effort on studies in this region and investigating the wildlife of America’s Outback.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Desperate Measures Needed to Save Tigers

The clocking is ticking toward extinction for tigers.

All subspecies of Panthera tigris are critically low and with the threats like habitat loss and poaching for the traditional medicines on the upswing, radical action must be taken.

And it must be taken now.

All measures taken to help tigers in the wild have failed so it’s time to try some things that will certainly (and have in some cases) ruffle feathers and might seem far-reaching.

The fact is with less than 3,000 tigers throughout all of Asia the far reach is the only one left.

The following are some ideas that need serious examination and thought from those interested in seeing this great cat saved from nonexistence.

#Island Tiger Preserves-There are enough small to medium uninhabited islands scattered throughout distant areas of the Pacific to create tiger preserves that would not be cost effective for poachers to hit. Many of these islands have populations of wild pigs and could be stocked with abundant deer. Problem tigers (human and livestock killers) could be recaptured and place on these islands with the idea of setting it with just enough male/female ratio to create a breeding population. In some cases that might be two tigers but if two can breed and raise young in the wild, then we’re gaining ground.

tiger charge (2)

#Pick a Species-If several large conservation organizations could pick one subspecies of tiger and focus on a moon mission sized goal of purchasing X amount of acres of critical habitat and accompanying that with full time scientific staff and game wardens then we might be able to rally the troops enough to keep a solid gene pool going for a particular variety. Small efforts by large, well-funded organizations could go to one huge project with smaller groups taking up smaller needs and other varieties.

#Rewilding-It has already been tried with limited success but at some point rewilding captive tigers needs addressed. The Island Tiger Preserve project might be a way to accomplish this but if tiger viability will go beyond 2025, rewilding will have to be a part of the process.

#Zoo, Private & Sanctuary Cooperation-The captive gene pool of tigers must be analyzed from the biggest zoos to private owners. Cut all of the political mess out of the way and take personal opinion of sanctuary and personal ownership around the world and get real-the gene pool is getting narrower and captive populations could be part of the solution.

All things must be on the table if we are to save what I consider the most beautiful creature God created. We’ll be talking about the great cats frequently in 2015 and tiger conservation will be an important part of that.  Conservation means the wise use of resources and now the wisest thing we can do about tigers is throw preconceived notions out the window and make some things happen.

Sound desperate?

It is.

We’re a generation away from the old “lions, tigers and bears…” saying missing a key component.

Chester Moore, Jr.

The Snakemaster Speaks: A Conversation with Austin Stevens

No one knows snakes like Austin Stevens.

When his program Austin Steven’s “Snakemaster” debuted on Animal Planet a decade ago, wildlife enthusiasts around the world were mesmerized not only with the serpents he encountered on film, but of Steven’s deep passion and knowledge of the subject matter.

Stevens has just released his latest book Austin Stevens: Snakemaster-Wildlife Adventures with the World’s Most Dangerous Reptiles.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Stevens who is currently residing in Australia. From here in the swamps of East Texas to the great expanse of Down Under we have traded emails, exploring all things snakes.

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A recent proliferation of cottonmouth photos on social media as well as a well-publicized incident with a young man being bitten while talking a “selfie” inspired a question about this infamous southern species.

“The cottonmouth, or water moccasin as it is also known is indeed reputed to be a bad-tempered snake when approached. Generally speaking I have found this to be true, though one must also take into account that though a species may have earned a particular reputation, individual snakes may differ within a species,” Stevens said.

“In Florida, in one morning, I came across two specimens within 50 feet of each other. The first immediately deployed the typical defense strategy, with head pulled back into its body coils, mouth wide open with tongue flickering in and out while its tail vibrated noisily amongst leaf litter, producing a sound almost like a rattler. Moving closer with my camera, the snake immediately responded with numerous short, quick strikes in my direction.”

“Not 20 minutes later and just a little further along, I came across a smaller specimen of the same species, basking on a log. This cottonmouth showed little interest in my approach and only moved when I attempted to pick it up with my snake tongs, which I eventually did with little complaint on the part of the snake. Two completely different displays of attitude, but generally speaking, cottonmouths are quick to show their displeasure when approached.”

 

Another common social media-fueled controversy are photos and videos purporting to show massive anacondas and reticulated pythons-usually dead ones. While it is commonly known these are the planet’s largest snakes, the size of specimens living today is open to debate.

“The largest anaconda I have ever come across in the wild was close to 18 feet in length, and the largest reticulated python I have ever come across in the wild measured around 21 feet. The longest reticulated python I have ever seen, however, was a 24 foot specimen raised in captivity. This was a true monster of a snake,” Stevens said.

 

He went on to explain there have over the years been numerous reports of these giant snakes found to be much bigger than this, but no proof has been offered, other than, in a few cases, poorly faked photographs.

“As mentioned before, snakes grow throughout their lives, thus allowing for the possibility that there might be some larger specimens yet undiscovered deep in the jungles of Borneo, or the tributaries of the Amazon. It is unfortunate that such specimens might only be discovered when humans encroach deeper into wilderness regions and the result is usually to the detriment of the snake.”

Stevens is a world-renowned wildlife photographer and has used his skills to show the beauty, behavior and unique attributes of snakes. His favorite species is a bit of a show-off.

“I have a special fondness for numerous snake species, but the one I most enjoy, especially from a photographic point of view, is the black and yellow Asian mangrove snake,” he said.

“This snake grows up to 8 feet in length, is brightly colored in shiny black and startling yellow, and is ever ready to enthusiastically display its discontent when approached. This snake is a photographer’s dream, as it dramatically inflates its throat, opens its mouth wide and coils its body into a series of S-bends in preparation to strike out in self-defense if the need arises”.

 

The mouth is kept wide open for long periods, showing a pure white interior, allowing for plenty of time to trigger off a number of impressive photographs. The snake is back-fanged, but in spite of its size, not considered dangerously venomous to humans,” he added.

Stevens said habitat destruction through agricultural development, urbanization, mineral extraction, erosion, and pollution, are amongst the most important causes that have brought about a decline in reptile species on top of persecution based out of fear.

A prime example is the case of the timber rattlesnake, a species that is on the threatened list in Texas and numerous other states.

“Probably the first snakes encountered by America’s Founding Fathers, and a symbol of defiance ever since, the timber rattlesnake has been persecuted throughout much of its range in the USA,” he said.

In the broader picture, Stevens said if a single person throws down a piece of paper it’s of little consequence. When a million people each throw down a piece of paper it is pollution.

“So, with this in mind, if just one conservation minded person starts the ball rolling, millions can follow, and conservation of the planet as a whole could be achieved,” Stevens said.

“Nature and wildlife education and awareness plays a key role and should be included in the curriculum of every school around the world.”

And what would a world be without chances to encounter amazing animals? At the end of the day that is what Stevens brings across in his broadcasts, writings and photography.

The finest example from his experience is his now famous encounter with a massive king cobra.

“When confronted by this 14 foot specimen in India, it became immediately apparent to me that it possessed a higher intelligence. By comparison, it was like facing an adult, where all snakes before had been children,” he said.

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“At first the snake had charged at me with hood raised, ready to defend its territory, stopping just short of me, where it eyed me out with some apparent curiosity. This curiosity became even more evident when I slowly lowered my camera bag from my shoulder, and the snake did something I had never seen before with any other snake.”

“It focused its eyes on my movement as I bent down to drop the camera bag and it tilted its head, not forward but to the side, at an angle, as though directing its nearest eye for a better look, much like a hawk might do when taking note of potential prey. Carefully it watched my movements, and, when once again the snake looked up directly into my eyes, I realized without any shadow of doubt, as far as snake species were concerned, I was in the presence of higher intelligence.”

Stevens said although he was clearly within its domain, and within striking distance, with every movement being watched and calculated by this giant cobra, it never advanced towards him.

“Instead it released a long, almost continuous rumble from its throat, as though a gentle warning not to push my luck.”

“And when a short while later, while attempting to photograph the snake from multiple angles, I tripped and fell crashing to the ground, startling the cobra into thinking it was under threat, it immediately reacted by lunging forward raising its head to loom over me where I lay in the leaf litter on the forest floor,” Stevens said.

“When it realized that I was in fact not threatening it, it simply gazed down at me with tilted head, more, it seemed, out of curiosity than anger. And as I slowly raised myself up again, the great snake slowly moved back to allow me space. I have never experienced anything like it before.”

These are the kinds of encounters that make Austin Steven’s accounts in his new book a must read for wildlife enthusiasts and that inspire others to respect nature.

Yes, even its most feared and misunderstood creatures.

To purchase the book click here.

You can follow Austin Stevens on Facebook here.